Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tie the Knot

Tie the knot...we've heard that phrase before. It is to unite two souls in love for as long as love lasts. A handfasting is literally binding the hands together. Not S&M, but loosely. Sometimes the couple slips their hands out before the ceremony ends and other times the hands are kept bound until the couple can go off and consummate the union. The history of handfasting is varied and the tradition of binding couples is seen in many different cultures. In Poland, there is a tradition of wrapping the couples hands in a white embroidered linen with a blessing said over a loaf of bread.

Polish hand binding ceremony

One Polish tradition that took place before rings became popular was called "zrekowiny" -- the hand binding ceremony. A master of ceremonies -- usually an uncle, a trusted male friend, or someone instrumental in the marital match -- was appointed.

The couple would join their hands together over a loaf of bread placed on a table covered with the best white tablecloth in the house. The MC would bind the couples' hands together with an embroidered cloth made especially for the occasion, symbolically indicating the willingness of both parties to be married and share their lives and duties. Then he would bless them, saying: "Two hands joined together over a loaf of bread -- that is the most beautiful sign of togetherness and the happy joining of two people traveling the same road. Two hands joined together until death do them part."

The embroidered cloth was saved in a dowry chest which became a popular piece of furniture in the married couple's house throughout their lifetime.

The Celtic tradition of handfasting is sometimes said to be bound for a year and a day and was usually performed on May Day. The following article is concerning Pagan weddings.

Binding Love and Tradition

New Worlds Isse: NW051
By: Anna Franklin

Common terms for getting married are “Tying the knot,” “getting hitched” or “joining hands.” They originate in the old handfasting custom of tying a couple’s hands together to indicate that they are bound in wedlock. As a Wiccan high priestess, I have conducted many handfastings, or Pagan marriages, and in recent years an increasing number of couples have written to me for advice, asking how they can go about conducting their own ceremonies, asking for rituals, spells and themes, or just ideas on how to include non-Pagan relatives in the celebrations. I have written this book for all those lovers out there who want to make their handfasting a very special occasion.

The handfasting vows are believed, literally, to be taken before the gods, and are therefore very solemn and binding. The coven or druidic grove act as witnesses, sometimes with friends and family present, with the ritual presided over by a priest or priestess, druid, clan chieftain or shaman. The couple exchange vows, and may give each other rings, have their hands loosely tied with colored cords or ribbons, jump over the cauldron or broomstick, and share wine together. Afterwards there are the usual congratulations — the throwing of confetti or rice, posing for photographs and a picnic or party.

During a handfasting, a Pagan couple declare their love and commitment to each other, and promise that they will live together for a year and a day or “for as long as love shall last,” in the words of one ritual. At the end of that time, they may renew their vows, make a more permanent commitment and a legal marriage or go their separate ways. It might seem to be a very modern concept, but the idea of a trial marriage — usually for a year and a day — is very old. In the south of England, in Dorset, there is a cliff called Handfast Point, where many such unions were made and where I once attended a very beautiful wedding one Midsummer dawn. The ancient and medieval Irish also undertook trial marriages, clasping hands through a holed stone. If the couple got along well together, they would make more permanent vows; if not, they would go back to the stone, and each walk off in a different direction.

I have always been fascinated by the surviving influence of old Pagan lore on our modern lives, and nowhere is this more apparent than those traditions surrounding the wedding ceremony. In my own home town of Hinckley, in the English Midlands, the factory girls still enact an old custom that that may date back to ancient fertility rites. During the lunch break on her last day as a single woman, the prospective bride is taken out and dressed in an elaborate hat made from paper flowers, and tied to a lamppost until released by a friendly passer-by.

Because marriage is one of life’s great rites of passage, both bride and groom stand on a threshold during the ceremony, neither married nor unmarried. This is a moment and state of great potential magical power, which the guests were always keen to tap into. Hence, all the customs of taking pieces of the bride’s dress, her flowers and so on. The character of the wedding creates an act of sympathetic magic which sets the tone of the rest of the couple’s lives. If it is surrounded by symbols of prosperity and plenty, then this is thought to attract these things later on.

A surprising number of modern Western marriage protocols come from our ancient Pagan heritage. The idea of the honeymoon, for example, comes from the ancient Teutonic people whose newly married couples kept their own company and drank honey wine for a full month, or moon, after the wedding. So this became known as the honeymoon period. Honey was widely believed to be an aphrodisiac in ancient and medieval times, and was an indispensable ingredient of love potions and spells or was taken with food and wine (and you can be sure that I have included plenty of honey recipes). The wedding cake probably originated with the ancient Romans, who baked small wheat or barley cakes and broke them over the bride’s head as an act of fertility magic.

Though I have included plenty of historical background material and folklore, this is essentially a very practical book, with advice on what to consider when you and your partner (or two members of your coven) decide to become handfasted. From organizing and budgeting for the day to deciding on the ritual format, choosing an auspicious time and date, what you need to consider when inviting non-Pagan guests, and even the legalities of the ceremony, this book includes it all, as well as recipes, spells and suggested themes. I have written a variety of rituals to suit most tastes, but couples should remember that this is their special day, and that they should tailor everything to their own needs. And to those lovers I say, in the words of an Irish blessing: “May your hearts be as warm as your hearthstone.”
There is also a Hispanic wedding tradition of the couple being 'lassoed', where a while cord is draped over the couple's shoulders.

The Coins, Veil and the Lasso are traditions associated with Hispanic and Filipino weddings. One of the bridal party attendants or another, honored individual, carries the coins. Following the exchange of rings, the "coin bearer" gives the coins to the groom. The groom, in turn, gives the coins his bride. The bride then gives them to her Maid of Honor. The symbolism is a basic one. It marks the acceptance by the groom of his responsibility to provide for to support his bride.
The Filipino custom is for the bride and her wedding party all to be dressed in the same color. In that way, it is believed, that the evil spirits which may be lurking cannot pick out the bride and steal her away before the ceremony.

The Veil and the Lasso respectively are incorporated into a special wedding prayer which takes place during the ceremony. Members of the wedding party are designated to be in charge of "lassoing" the bride and groom. This binding of the couple, takes place while they kneel for the wedding prayer. A white satin circle of cord is subsequently draped around the (head and) shoulders of the kneeling couple.

Once the couple has been "lassoed," a Veil is placed over their shoulders. The veil, which may need some fastening so it will stay in place, symbolically unites the couple, who remain kneeling for the prayer. When the kneeling prayer is over, the attendants remove the lasso and the veil.
There are so many different wedding traditions and today a couple can custom design their ceremony to add elements from their nationality and beliefs.